Dave Weigel profiles Herman Cain, the former businessman and Tea Party favorite who just announced the formation of his exploratory committee for a presidential run. I was glad that Weigel asked him about foreign policy and national security, since most stories about him ignore his views on these subjects. To no one’s surprise, Cain’s answers are very hawkish:
“I support the surge in Afghanistan but I would have sent those troops earlier than the president sent them,” said Cain. “I don’t know, because I’m not privy to all of the intelligence, if we can win in Afghanistan. If we can, then I would have never announced a withdrawal date [bold mine-DL]. And so the first thing that I’d do [if elected] is summon the experts to find out can we win. If the answer is yes, what is it going to take? And I’m not going to broadcast it to our enemies as to when we’re going to get out of there.”
He restated this, to be clear about how much he saw his job as handing out tasks to smart people. “If the experts—the generals, the joint chiefs of staff—if they believe we can win, I’m not going to tear up the plan they give me,” he said. “I’m going to execute the plan. If we can’t win, I want to know what we can do to exit with dignity out of that country.”
Cain spent some more time explaining his view of the war on terror—“we’re going to be in this war forever” [bold mine-DL] —and the Iraq War. “The people of Iraq, they wanted to become a democracy,” he said. “If they did not want to become a democracy, I do not think President Bush forced it upon them. Once it was clear that they wanted to become a democracy, President Bush pledged to help them do that. I know enough from the reports that I’ve read that this is something the Iraqi people wanted.”
This has to be discouraging to anyone who might have hoped that a Tea Party-aligned possible presidential contender would bring anything new or remarkable to the substance of the primary debates for the next cycle. Cain wasn’t kidding when he told The Atlantic‘s Josh Green that when it came to “our conservative beliefs and values, Sarah Palin and I are probably identical.” The trouble is that Cain is very sharp and much, much more policy-oriented than Palin, or many of the other 2012 contenders for that matter. While many of his foreign policy arguments may be awful, he will be able to articulate and defend them more ably than most of the other candidates. If they all run, Cain, Rick Santorum and John Bolton are going to be falling over one another to claim the mantle of most unelectable hawk during the primary debates.
It’s not as if Cain has been keeping his hawkish national security views a secret. An earlier version of his Facebook page* defined his national security views this way: “A strong military – Defense spending should be used more effectively, but never cut below 4% of GDP. The fight against Islamic Fascism is global. Fight it wherever it is a threat to the United States of America. Let our intelligence agencies do their jobs.” That pretty much summed it up: global, perpetual war against “Islamic fascism,” no reductions in military spending, and no effort to rein in what intelligence agencies do. The last part seems to me to be code for resuming detainee abuse and torture. In short, Cain seems to have embraced Bushism in foreign policy in 2010-2011 to a degree that very few Republicans did when Bush was President and still reasonably popular.
* Cain’s Facebook page is now very bland and vague on policy positions.